Panjavarnam Penn - Rama Vaidyanathan
December has been a busy month at Panjavarnam. Apart from the very obvious enthusiasm we have had for Margazhi (hint: Check our Social Media and Mails), we had some amazing moments this December.
For those of you wondering what Margazhi is all about in Tamil Nadu, here is a little on this festive month. Margazhi is considered one of the most spiritual months in the Tamil Calendar. It is the when Lord Vishnu is most celebrated in his various manifestations. Margazhi is most significant for Andal’s love and devotion for Krishna and the recitation of her Thiruppavai.
Margazhi’s celebration doesn’t just stop with the Gods. The streets of Tamil Nadu are decked with beautiful, grand Kolams. Many people start their day as early as 4 am singing Bhajans in a procession. But most importantly, Chennai becomes busy with its most famous “Margazhi Season” concerts, where the city is buzzing with classical kutcheris and dance concerts.
Being true connoisseurs of art, Panjavarnam’s expression of art is through our sarees. This year we wanted to extend it beyond just our silks. Our first collaboration this Margazhi was with the most amazing danseuse Ms. Rama Vaidyanathan from Delhi. The collaboration taught us a lot. The importance artists give to their costumes, the interest in weaves, the thought process that goes behind choosing a saree for a performance, is intense.
This process not only taught us more but we absolutely fell hard for Ms. Rama and her dance. Humility and Honesty is definitely her middle name and we couldn’t help but bombard her with questions about her process as a dancer. And hence, she has become our muse for Margazhi, our Panjavarnam Penn!
Panjavarnam.com worked with Rama for two shows - the Natya Darshan Conference where the theme was “Modernity in a traditional context” and the main concert at the Madras Music Academy.
Sharing an excerpt from our conversation with her:
What do you look for in a saree that becomes your costume?
I love it when my costume has many colours. I look for at least 3 colours in the saree that I choose to wear as a costume. I usually wear dark colours. I love to pick earth colours. I also look for Colours and Colour Combinations when I choose my sarees. The colour should speak out to me, they must be rare and unusual. I also look at the actual thread colour of the saree that is used in the weave and ensure I use a silk material of that colour to bring about a contrast to my costume.
What is your typical process when you pick a costume? Does it matter that it should go with the general theme of your Kutcheri? Tell us a little about the sarees you picked from Panjavarnam for two of your shows…
I pick my costumes before the season. And yes, it must go well with the theme of my concert. I make atleast 2-3 new costumes in a year. As I said, I look for unusual colour combinations and prefer if a saree had 2-3 colours in it.
Bharatanatyam is evolving. We as artists are exploring new ideas, themes and dimensions. Why not explore new dimensions in costumes as well! I generally choose dark colours but for the Natya Darshan show, I choose a lime yellow saree with a pink shot with yellow border, as the central theme was Krishna. The saree reminded me of Krishna’s peetha vastram and hence I chose this saree. To highlight the yellow, I wore a slightly darker pink blouse. This pink was the actual pink colour weave used in the saree before it was woven with the yellow.
For the Music Academy concert, I went with my usual dark colour and 3 different colours in the saree. This saree is a gorgeous pick in shades of green with a magenta and a dark green border. It does not matter that the body has jacquard or bhutties. This saree has silk jacquard work of annams and chakrams with a tinge of magenta.
When this saree became my costume, I used the beginning portion of the saree with no jacquard as my seat. The body became the main costume, but for the dhavani I only used the green and zari. I did not use the other two colours in my border. The grand pallu became my fan. This is a gorgeous saree.
What sort of sarees do you prefer? Do you prefer plain body sarees or jacquard and bhutties?
I am not picky about bhutties and jacquards on my costume. As long as the colours are unusual and accentuated, I don’t mind jacquards. Like the green saree I picked for the Music Academy show, it has beautiful annam and chakram silk thread work in lighter green with a magenta shot double colour. But it looked completely different on stage.
What colour do you almost always pick?
I love earth colours - Greens and Maroons, dark blues, peacock blue are colours I love. I don't like pastels, I don't think they suit my personality or my dance. But one colour I always go to is Green. The lime yellow saree I picked as a costume was the lightest I have worn.
Talking about aesthetics, you are known for your simplicity in your dressing. What is your suggestion/advice for the up and coming generation?
My biggest advice is less is more. Even the costume, Less is more. Imagine for NatyaDarshan’s program (where I wore the yellow saree), if I had worn a lot of jewellery and decked myself up, it would have taken the concentration away from dance. I wore a simple single nethi chutti and earrings and gold flowers to gel with my costume. I wore on grand neck piece, and that was it.
For me dance has to show more, my costume has to speak for my dance, not my jewellery. There are so many shows where I wear costumes without a stitch of zari. I definitely believe less is more.
What do you like most about Panjavarnam?
You have such unique pieces and amazing colour combinations. The happy coincidence is that my sister has been buying sarees from you for quite some time. The black saree with silk threadwork was such a unique piece. I wore it at a wedding in Jodhpur and had a lot of people come and ask me about the saree. The other Odisha weave saree I picked from you may not be a saree I wear as a costume, but they are definite heirloom pieces that I would love to own and pass down. Same with my costumes too. I hope to pass my costume to my daughter as an heirloom.